In his Dec. 30, 2003, New York Times column, David Brooks observes, “Nearly 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville was bewildered by the mixture of devout religiosity he found in the United States combined with the relative absence of denominational strife, at least among Protestants. Americans, he observed, don’t seem to care that their neighbors hold to false versions of the faith.

“That’s because many Americans have tended to assume that all these differences are temporary. In the final days, the distinctions will fade away, and we will all be united in God’s embrace. This happy assumption has meant that millions feel free to try on different denominations at different points in their lives, and many Americans have had trouble taking religious doctrines altogether seriously. As the historian Henry Steele Commager once wrote, ‘During the 19th century and well into the 20th, religion prospered while theology slowly went bankrupt.’

“This tendency to emphasize personal growth over any fixed creed has shaped our cultural and political life. First, it’s meant that Americans are reasonably tolerant, generally believing that all people of good will are basically on the same side. In London recently, President Bush said that Christians and Muslims both pray to the same God. That was theologically controversial, but it was faithful to the national creed.

“Second, it has meant that we relax severity. American faiths, as many scholars note, have tended to be optimistic and easygoing, experiential rather than intellectual. Churches compete for congregants. To fill the pews, they often emphasize the upbeat and the encouraging and play down the business about God’s wrath. In today’s megachurches, the technology is cutting-edge, the music is modern, the language is therapeutic and the dress is casual. These churches are seeker-sensitive, not authoritarian.” (Click here to read the full article.)

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